"On the starboard side of the ship, a grizzled man dictated a long letter to another grizzled man in an immense fur cap." by Edward G. Dalziel. Wood engraving. From Dickens's "Bound for the Great Salt Lake," chapter 20 in The Uncommercial Traveller. [Click on image to enlarge it.]

Passage Realised

I go aboard my Emigrant Ship. I go first to the great cabin, and find it in the usual condition of a Cabin at that pass. Perspiring landsmen, with loose papers, and with pens and inkstands, pervade it; and the general appearance of things is as if the late Mr. Amazon's funeral had just come home from the cemetery, and the disconsolate Mrs. Amazon's trustees found the affairs in great disorder, and were looking high and low for the will. I go out on the poop-deck, for air, and surveying the emigrants on the deck below (indeed they are crowded all about me, up there too), find more pens and inkstands in action, and more papers, and interminable complication respecting accounts with individuals for tin cans and what not. But nobody is in an ill-temper, nobody is the worse for drink, nobody swears an oath or uses a coarse word, nobody appears depressed, nobody is weeping, and down upon the deck in every corner where it is possible to find a few square feet to kneel, crouch, or lie in, people, in every unsuitable attitude for writing, are writing letters.

Now, I have seen emigrant ships before this day in June. And these people are so strikingly different from all other people in like circumstances whom I have ever seen, that I wonder aloud, "What would a stranger suppose these emigrants to be!"

The vigilant, bright face of the weather-browned captain of the Amazon is at my shoulder, and he says, 'What, indeed! The most of these came aboard yesterday evening. They came from various parts of England in small parties that had never seen one another before. Yet they had not been a couple of hours on board, when they established their own police, made their own regulations, and set their own watches at all the hatchways. Before nine o'clock, the ship was as orderly and as quiet as a man-of-war."

I looked about me again, and saw the letter-writing going on with the most curious composure. Perfectly abstracted in the midst of the crowd; while great casks were swinging aloft, and being lowered into the hold; while hot agents were hurrying up and down, adjusting the interminable accounts; while two hundred strangers were searching everywhere for two hundred other strangers, and were asking questions about them of two hundred more; while the children played up and down all the steps, and in and out among all the people's legs, and were beheld, to the general dismay, toppling over all the dangerous places; the letter-writers wrote on calmly. On the starboard side of the ship, a grizzled man dictated a long letter to another grizzled man in an immense fur cap: which letter was of so profound a quality, that it became necessary for the amanuensis at intervals to take off his fur cap in both his hands, for the ventilation of his brain, and stare at him who dictated, as a man of many mysteries who was worth looking at. [98]

Commentary

The bustling, multi-figured composition of the engraving communicates effectively the on deck activity as the passengers prepare for the transAtlantic voyage and transcontinental rail journey to the promised land of Utah in Dickens's essay "Bound for The Great Salt Lake," first published in All the Year Round on 4 July 1863 (pp. 444-449), a follow up to Dickens's numerous Household Words articles on emigration and maritime commerce, notably articles on Australian emigration. Compare Dickens's description and Dalziel's illustration with such representations of emigrants on the outward voyage as Skinner Prout's "Scenes on Board an Australian Emigrant Ship" (2 January 1849). In January 1862 Lord Houghton in The Edinburgh Review had commented upon the unusual discipline and good order among the Mormon settlers taking passage upon Mormon chartered ships under the management of a shipping agency specifically instituted by the Church of Latter Day Saints to facilitate the European exodus. The religious sect had even instituted a charitable fund — The Perpetual Emigrating Fund — to encourage the emigration of poor converts.

As Slater and Drew note, this particular Uncommercial Traveller article, published exactly a month after Dickens's visiting the actual embarkation scene at the London docks, draws on personal observation rather than mere received impressions. In "Bound for the Great Salt Lake," which became chapter 20 in The Uncommercial Traveller, we have an account that reflects in a manner of factual reportage Dickens's visit to the emigrant ship Amazon on the morning of 4 June 1863. Apparently Mormon evangelists, seeking to increase the population of Great Salt Lake City (approximately 6,000 three years after its founding by Brigham Young in 1847), discovered fruitful ground for proselytising in Wales in the 1860s, possibly because the Nonconformist Welsh responded with alacrity to the promise of land overseas. Strangely enough, although Dickens acknowledges the presence of many Welsh among the passengers, his persona interviews only a peasant from the vicinity of Stonehenge in Wiltshire and a "Mormon Agent," both distinguished by their distinctive accents. Perhaps Dickens was reluctant to attempt to capture the Welsh accent, or felt that interviewing yet another group would mar the style of the piece, which already combines factual reportage and observation with two humorous interviews, both of which there is something deceptive or spurious about the Commercial's interlocutors.

The illustration and Dickens's initial description of conditions on "My Emigrant Ship" (908) would both lead the reader to anticipate the lachrymose pandemonium typical of such scenes as "The Emigrants" in Dickens's David Copperfield; in fact, much to the surprise of Dickens's Uncommercial Traveller, "nobody is in an ill-temper, nobody is the worse for drink, nobody swears an oath or uses a coarse word, nobody appears depressed" (98), and everywhere above and below decks a general letter-writing is in progress — although Dalziel includes only four such events, foregrounding the working-class amanuensis in the fur cap (centre) and the dictator of the correspondence (with umbrella, right). The illustration emphasises the cerebral activity of letter-writing and the presence of so many women and children among the "Saints," perhaps to account for the rational behaviour of these emigrants, in contrast the the "grizzled" and masculine figures in the foreground.

Despite his generally negative attitude towards Nonconformity on the one hand and Catholicism on the other, Dickens adopts an extremely positive attitude towards the Welsh and English "Saints" aboard the Amazon because they exercise such a high degree of self-discipline. Dalziel's illustration is a more dynamic "group shot" on board the deck of the emigrant vessel, comparable to scenes in such novels as Martin Chuzzlewit and David Copperfield: Browne's "The Emigrants", Barnard's "On board the "'Screw'", and Barnard's on deck illustration depicting the arrival of 'The Screw' in New York's harbour, "It is in such enlightened means," said a voice, almost in Martin's ear, "That the bubbling passions of my country find a vent".

On the other hand, Reinhart's parallel Household Edition illustration, "'Are you all here?' Glancing at the party over his spectacles", focuses on the Port of London's medical authorities' conducting a health inspection of a single family.

Other urban and nautical scenes

Scanned image by Philip V. Allingham. [You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the person who scanned the image and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.]

References

Dickens, Charles. The Uncommercial Traveller, Hard Times, and The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Il. Charles Stanley Reinhart and Luke Fildes. The Household Edition. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1876.

Dickens, Charles. The Uncommercial Traveller. Il. Edward Dalziel. The Household Edition. London: Chapman and Hall, 1877.

Hartnoll, Phyllis, ed. The Concise Oxford Companion to the Theatre. Oxford and New York: Oxford U. P., 1972.

Scenes and Characters from the Works of Charles Dickens; being eight hundred and sixty-six drawings, by Fred Barnard, Hablot Knight Browne (Phiz); J. Mahoney; Charles Green; A. B. Frost; Gordon Thomson; J. McL. Ralston; H. French; E. G. Dalziel; F. A. Fraser, and Sir Luke Fildes; printed from the original woodblocks engraved for "The Household Edition." New York: Chapman and Hall, 1908. Copy in the Robarts Library, University of Toronto.

Slater, Michael, and John Drew, eds. Dickens' Journalism: 'The Uncommercial Traveller' and Other Papers 1859-70. The Dent Uniform Edition of Dickens' Journalism, vol. 4. London: J. M. Dent, 2000.


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Last modified 13 March 2013